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By Lennard Zinn
When Rik Verbrugghe won the Criterium International, he said he would improve on his placing in the Flèche Wallonne from last year, when he finished second to Francesco Casagrande. The lean Lotto rider kept his word, chasing down an early breakaway of eight riders alone, dropping all but three by the final climb, and finishing alone on the steep ascent of the Mur de Huy.
The eight riders in the initial break were Ivan Basso (Fassa Bortolo), Grischa Niermann (Rabobank), Luca Paolini (Mapei), Koos Moerenhout (Domo), Jörg Jaksche (ONCE), Marcelino Garcia Alonso (CSC), Constantino Zaballa Gutierrez (Kelme), and Unai Etxebarria Arana (Euskaltel). With 90km to go, the break had a lead of 2:45. Zaballa was dropped and soon was replaced by another Spaniard, César Solaun Solana (Banesto).
With 60km to go Erick Dekker (Rabobank) closed the gap alone, and the gap stayed in the 1-2 minute range. With 30km to go and the peloton seemingly uninterested in chasing, Verbrugghe attacked and closed the 2-minute gap alone. He went right to the front and forced the pace on the Côte de Ahin climb, dropping all but Basso, Jaksche and Solaun.
At 3km to go, the bunch was at 37 seconds and the lead seemed secure. The Belgian simply went as hard as he could up the Mur, and nobody could stay with him. Basso was the last to fall off, Jaksche followed, and Solaun just barely held on for fourth place ahead of a sprint among an eight-man chase group led in by David Etxebarria Alkorta (Euskaltel) over Francesco Casagrande (Fassa Bortolo).
65th LA FLECHE WALLONNE, Huy, Belgium. April 18.
1. Rik Verbrugghe (B), Lotto-Adecco, 198km in 4:50:03 (40.958kph); 2. Ivan
Basso (I), Fassa Bortolo, at 0:05; 3. Jörg Jaksche (G), ONCE, at 0:12; 4.
Cesar Solaun Solana (Sp), Banesto, at 0:21; 5. David Etxebarria Alkorta (Sp),
Euskaltel-Euskadi; 6. Francesco Casagrande (I) Fassa Bortolo; 7. Dario Frigo
(I), Fassa Bortolo; 8. Davide Rebellin (I), Liquigas-PATA; 9. Michael Boogerd
(N), Rabobank; 10. Peter Luttenberger (A), Tacconi-Vini Caldirola, all s.t.
11. Michele Bartoli (I) Mapei, at 0:27; 12. Raimondas Rumsas (Ltu), Fassa
Bortolo; 13. Francisco Mancebo Perez (Sp), Banesto; 14. Marcos Serrano
Rodriguez (Sp), ONCE; 15. Oscar Camenzind (Swi), Lampre-Daikin; 16. Mario
Aerts (B), Lotto-Adecco; 17. Paolo Savoldelli (I), Saeco, all s.t.; 18. Angel
Castresana Del Val (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 0:37; 19. Axel Merckx (B),
Domo-Farm Frites; 20. Paolo Bettini (I), Mapei, all s.t.